What follows is an example of how the Alabama Legislature too often focuses on fringe issues and oddball causes that don’t improve Alabamians’ lives and health, don’t promote worthwhile job growth and don’t protect the fiscal interests of the state’s budgets.
In November, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, will appear on the ballot that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools and public properties in our state. It’s a remnant of Alabama’s never-ending relationship with failed U.S. Senate candidate and defrocked state Supreme Court justice Roy Moore, whose crusade to dissolve the separation of church and state here still has a legion of adherents.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Department of Public Health has enlisted University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban to help promote its plan to reduce the state’s catastrophic infant mortality rate. Last December, Gov. Kay Ivey created a “Children’s Cabinet” that included representatives from the state departments that oversee human resources, early childhood education, mental health, public health and minority affairs.
Those representatives helped draft the State of Alabama Infant Mortality Plan, which was released in June. Saban recorded a short public-service video for the Department of Public Health’s efforts to lower the infant-mortality rate, and the video was released earlier this month.
“The loss of even one of these infants is a tragedy we can help prevent,” Saban says. “Join the winning team and become a champion for reducing infant mortality in Alabama help us help all babies reach their first birthday.”
Data from the Department of Public Health show that 537 infants died in Alabama in 2016 — a 9.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births ratio that ranks second-worst in the nation. The U.S. average is 5.9 infant deaths per 1,000 births.
Here’s where legislators’ preoccupation with fringe issues comes into play.
Health care in Alabama rests on a precarious cliff because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, the closure of numerous rural hospitals and the number of Alabamians without health insurance. Politicians are neither physicians nor hospital administrators. But the decisions they make do affect these outcomes because some mothers whose infants suffer from birth defects, preterm birth issues or low-birth weights could be helped if medical coverage was more available, particularly in rural areas.
Alabama’s Republican-led refusal to expand Medicaid, which is having an adverse effect on the state’s health-care providers, perfectly illustrates how these factors are intertwined.
Ivey’s convening of a committee to tackle this Alabama epidemic last year was wise. But it also serves as an example that voters should remember on election day. Are their choices for office making Alabama a safer, healthier, smarter and fiscally stable state? Or are they dabbling on the fringes? That’s how Alabama should judge who it sends to Montgomery.